It’s Labour Day in Canada and the US … a day to celebrate workers. Like other groups in society, many financial institutions saw fit to memorialize their employees who had served in the war.
The Bank of Montreal is the oldest bank in Canada (founded in 1817). The Montreal main branch at 119 rue Saint-Jacques – built when banks were temples – dominates one side of Place d’Armes, the centre of the city’s financial district in the early 20th century. Tributes to the fallen employees of three banks are inside: the Bank of Montreal, as well as the Merchants Bank of Canada and Molsons Bank that the Bank of Montreal acquired in the 1920s.
From the Bank of Montreal brochure about the building:
The central hall is dominated by the statue of Patria, a memorial to honour the sacrifices made by employees during World War I. The marble statue was sculpted by American artist James Earle Fraser. The figure represents Victory, with her arms folded over a sword covered with palm fronds. A contemporary critic remarked that the figure appears to be “meditating not upon the thrill of battle, but upon the cost of peace.”
Of the 1409 Bank of Montreal employees who served in WW1, 230 never returned. Their names are on the east side of the entrance hall. Those who died and those who served are also remembered in the Record of Service published by the bank in 1921.
Move into the main banking hall to see the tablets for the Merchants Bank and Molsons Bank.
The Honour Roll of the Members of Staff of the Merchants Bank of Canada who joined the Colours and served the Empire overseas in the Great War shows that, of 618 employees who served, 54 were killed in action and eight died of wounds. Five are listed as missing, three are listed as deceased (perhaps from illness?). Six were awarded the Military Cross, two the Military Medal.
The Honour Roll of the Molsons Bank is “in memory of the members of our staff who fell in the Great War” (32) “and in honour of those who served” (197).
A History of the Bank of Montreal, vol 2 (1921) tells of the banking services in WW1:
Just twenty days after the beginning of World War I the first training camp for members of the Canadian Expeditionary Force was opened at Valcartier, Quebec, and the Bank of Montreal immediately opened a temporary office there for the payment of the 33,000 troops of the first overseas contingent. (p 313)
While an agency of the Bank of Montreal had been established in the financial heart of London, England, in 1870, the Bank in 1913 decided to open a second office, for the convenience of Canadian visitors to the city. Situated in the West End, close to the hotels, shops and theatres, the new branch in Waterloo Place acquired an unexpectedly large amount of business in October 1914 when the first contingent of the Canadian Expeditionary Force arrived in Britain en route to Europe.
… By 1916 the Waterloo Place branch had 25,000 accounts belonging to officers and men of the various armed services … All Canadian officers serving overseas were paid through accounts in this branch and it became a popular meeting place for the troops of all ranks because mail from home could be picked up there and the staff cheerfully filled requests for theatre and hotel bookings. Special services were extended to the less fortunate. On behalf of clients being held as prisoners of war, the branch sent gifts and messages to loved ones in Canada. Inquiries were made about the missing and wounded at the request of their relatives and those hospitalized in the vicinity of London were frequently cheered by visits from Bank personnel. (p 329)